CapeTown - Lobby group Friends of Table Mountain (FOTM) are questioning the legality of SANParks’ access system, saying its annual hike of access and permit fees increases exclusions.
FOTM chairperson Andy Davies said more and more Capetonians were excluded from their mountain as access and permits fees increased annually.
This as the SANParks access fees are expected to increase on Sunday.
He said apart from hiking and trail running, activities such as horse riding, mountain biking, dog walking, fishing and others activities at the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) were paid for.
He said of concern was that many areas, such as Boulders, Tokai and Newlands picnic sites, were freely accessible and all activities used to be free.
“Permit fees by default are exclusive – only those who can afford them are able to participate in certain activities.
“Permit fees on events also result in high charges which have to be carried by event organisers and which are subsequently passed on to event-goers – these costs have become increasingly expensive - again resulting in exclusivity, particular for disadvantaged runners or cyclists,” he said.
Davies said FOTM believed that activity permits were a reason for the breakdown in trust between the public and SANParks and a significant reason for conflict between SANParks rangers and the public.
Davies said what was of further concern was the fact that the heads of agreement between SANParks and City of Cape Town stated that SANParks should obtain a prior written consent from the City before levying any charges for access by members of the public.
“The agreement also refers to the levying of charges at points where access fees are charged and indicates that these must be referred to the National Park Committee for consideration and recommendation.
“The National Park Committee would refer to the Park Forum, however, that’s been defunct since 2009 and we’ve been unable to ascertain that these recommendations were ever made,” he said.
Davies said that the City claimed it had never obtained prior written consent from SANParks for the levying of charges or the annual increases in access and permit fees.
He said if SANParks had not followed the processes required by the heads of agreement, it puts them in breach of the agreement, “and one must thus question the legality of the permit system”.
TrailWP chairperson Ellie Courts said 14 race events were cancelled over the past few years, including many with a charitable outreach, because permit fees became too exorbitant for organisers and runners who had to carry permit costs in their entry fee.
He said permit fees have impacted on development work for different types of running because the high fees exclude development runners and children.
Courts said many events that used to take place in the park were now taking place further afield, resulting in further exclusion for those without transport.
Courts said many indigenous groups were also harassed and prevented from conducting long held rituals and ceremonies fundamental to their culture.
Anwar Adams, of Hikers Paradise Adventure Club, said the permit system and access fees created a virtual fence around the park, letting in those who can afford it, keeping out those who can’t.
He said popular picnic sites such as Tokai and Newlands were now costing a family of four a minimum of R124 at current rates.
“And that’s before they’ve paid for food and beverages.
“If they’re a family with a dog and want to walk their dog in Tokai or Newlands Forest, that’s another R305 per year.
“And if they want to cycle in or line fish in the park, that’s R625 per year and another R270 for additional family members.
“Fees to picnic at popular Cape Point sites like Buffels Bay are even higher,” he said.
“SANParks seem only interested in what they can extract from stakeholders and if you have nothing to offer you can take a proverbial hike,” said Adams.
Davies said FOTM had voiced their concerns at a meeting with the SANParks chief executive where they demanded that activity permits be dropped, but said there was no reaction forthcoming from SANParks management.
Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt said they were engaging with SANParks and “we cannot comment any further at this point in time.
We will keep the public informed.”
SANParks spokesperson Lauren Clayton said the organisation’s primary mandate is conservation, and that any income that the park generates is used to fund SANParks including conservation activities “such as invasive alien plant clearing, fire management, veld rehabilitation and soil erosion etc”.
“The contributions from sale of the activity permits help sustain the national parks which forms part of this system.
“The funds allocated to TMNP for conservation activities are far in excess of the money raised by the activity permit system.”
Clayton added: “Recreational events on a commercial basis are permitted through a different system which requires permits, an Events Environmental Management Plan to be in place and are charged accordingly.
“The activity permit is applicable on all land managed as part of the park notwithstanding the particular ownership of the property.
“The activity permit system is not in conflict with the Heads of Agreement between the SANParks and the City of Cape Town as firstly, it is a legal requirement and secondly, it is not an access card,” she said.
“SANParks will constantly work towards improving the efficiency in the administration of the activity permit system.”
Clayton also explained that annual increases are determined annually in accordance to the inflation rate which are necessary to accommodate escalating operational activities and conservation programmes.